CommonSpace looks back on some of the pivotal events of Kezia Dugdale’s leadership of Scottish Labour
WHEN Kezia Dugdale became Scottish Labour leader in 2015, few could have predicted it even a year before, least of all herself.
In an interview with the Edinburgh Evening News in October 2014, little over a month after the referendum campaign concluded and shortly after the resignation of former Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont, Dugdale said: “I knew I wasn’t going to do it. I don’t have it, I don’t have the thing the Labour Party needs right now. It is flattering that some people did consider me to be in the running and I took some very nice calls about it. But I looked at Johann … who has five times the political experience I have and she couldn’t do it.
“I don’t have the steel, the sense of purpose that my party needs right now, and so I have ruled myself out.” Kezia Dugdale, speaking in October 2014
“It would be incredibly arrogant of me to think I could step up and do a better job. I have the experience of being on Question Time, the TV referendum debate … I don’t have the steel, the sense of purpose that my party needs right now, and so I have ruled myself out.”
However, following the resignation of her predecessor Jim Murphy after Labour’s humiliating 2015 General Election defeat, in which all but one of Labour’s 41 seats were lost to the SNP, Dugdale either changed her mind or was prevailed upon by figures within Scottish Labour.
Kezia assumed the leadership under difficult circumstances, and faced challenges throughout her tenure. Here, CommonSpace looks back at some of her most notable moments.
In the leadership contest that followed Jim Murphy’s resignation, Dugdale won with 72.1 per cent of the vote over her rival Ken Macintosh. However, it was still a surprising result, since at the age of 33, she was the youngest person ever to lead Scottish Labour.
“All I ask is that you take a fresh look at the Scottish Labour party under my leadership.” Kezia Dugdale, following her election as Scottish Labour leader
She was immediately faced with the challenge of rebuilding Scottish Labour following its post-indyref collapse and near-obliteration in the 2015 General Election, as well as balancing competing ideological currents within the party, attempting to reconcile those sympathetic to Murphy, whom she served as deputy, and those on the party’s left who regarded Murphy as an arch-Blairite.
Speaking after her election, Dugdale said: “All I ask is that you take a fresh look at the Scottish Labour party under my leadership.”
Dugdale vs Corbyn, round one
The swift, unprecedented ascent of Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy for the Labour leadership following the post-election resignation of Ed Miliband in 2015 shocked many commentators and political veterans.
Prior to his triumph, Dugdale initially refused to declare a preference (she eventually revealed that she voed for Yvette Cooper), but described her reservations about Corbyn to the Guardian, saying: “There are loads of people [in the Labour party] who are quite prepared to say ‘Och, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t look like a prime minister, there’s someone who’s authentic and says what they believe’.”
“Here’s a guy [Jeremy Corbyn] that’s broken the whip 500 times. So how can the leader of the party enforce discipline with that record?” Kezia Dugdale
“But I want there to be a Labour government; otherwise I’m wasting my time. I don’t want to spend my whole life just carping from the sidelines.
“So you have to convince me that he can be [prime minister]. Here’s a guy that’s broken the whip 500 times. So how can the leader of the party enforce discipline with that record?”
It was the beginning of what was widely interpreted as an irreconcilable ideological rift between Dugdale and the eventual UK Labour leader – a perception which has continued as speculation abounds over whether pressure from Corbyn supporters within Labour had impact on her decision to step down – a theory Dugdale has denied.
The 2016 Scottish election
Following Labour’s near wipe-out in 2015, Dugdale acknowledged that the 2016 Scottish election was “always going to be tough”, but nevertheless declared herself “heartbroken” when Scottish Labour was beaten into third place by the Scottish Tories, an outcome that would have been almost inconceivable a few years before.
Dugdale failed to win the Edinburgh Eastern seat she stood for, but was still elected on the regional list. As a result, she insisted she would remain as leader.
Dugdale vs Corbyn, round two
Dugdale threw her support behind Owen Smith’s attempted leadership challenge to Jeremy Corbyn in 2016, saying: “Owen Smith gets my vote. I believe Owen can unite our party, and move us on from the divisions that exist under the current UK leadership of Jeremy Corbyn."
“I don't think Jeremy can unite our party and lead us into government.” Kezia Dugdale
She wrote in the Daily Record: “"We can't pin our hopes on a leadership that speaks only to the converted rather than speaking to the country as a whole.
"My only public comment on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership before this contest was to say that he had lost the confidence of his parliamentary colleagues in Westminster.
"That's a fact. More than 80 per cent of Labour MPs expressed a lack of confidence in Jeremy's leadership … That remains my position today. I don't think Jeremy can unite our party and lead us into government.”
Despite this, Corbyn won the majority of local Labour branches in Scotland who backed a candidate, and eventually saw off Smith’s challenge, remaining Labour leader.
The rape clause
Despite inspiring disagreement and criticism throughout her tenure as Scottish Labour leader, one of Dugdale’s most widely admired moments came when Holyrood voted by 91 to 31 to support first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s motion to end the two-child cap on tax credits and scrap the Tory ‘rape clause’.
In what was generally regarded as an unusually powerful speech, Dugdale read out a letter from a rape victim to the assembled parliament during the debate that preceded the vote, saying afterwards: “That is the burden this Tory government wants to put on victims of rape because it doesn't want to pay for more than two children in a poor family. It is an absolutely sickening state of affairs.”
Picture courtesy of Youtube
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